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Commentary: Bush still fighting the last war

By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Special to CNN
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SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- Do you feel safer than you did five years ago? Republicans hope the answer is yes and that you'll give them full credit.

Of course, on a related note, they also hope you've developed full-fledged amnesia.

They hope you've forgotten all about immigration reform and how the White House and GOP-controlled Congress were going to fix a broken system and seal a porous border -- things that make many Americans feel less safe and less secure.

Five years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration is still fighting the last war.

We require that air travelers remove their shoes and toss out water bottles before boarding airplanes when what we should worry about isn't a repeat of something that already happened, but something that hasn't yet been dreamt up.

It is worse with immigration where Bush -- despite having a good grasp of the issue -- doesn't want to fight at all, perhaps since it means firing at members of his own party.

The shame of it is that the president has plenty of weapons in his arsenal. According to the Republican National Committee, Bush has, in the last 15 months, raised $166 million for the coffers of 27 Republican candidates, the national GOP and its state chapters across the country.

You'd think all that money would buy some respect. Instead, fellow Republicans slug away at Bush and dismiss as "amnesty" his plan to match workers and employers.

Bush should hit back by withholding fundraising dollars from any Republican member of Congress who doesn't start singing the praises of the White House approach to this pressing national issue.

What Bush has in mind isn't amnesty. Lately, he is said to be "intrigued" by the compromise proposed by Rep. Mike Pence, R-Indiana, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. Their plan puts enforcement first, rejects amnesty, and requires that the border be sealed before anything is done with the 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

Yet Bush hasn't endorsed the Hutchison-Pence plan, or any plan for that matter. He's planted himself on the sidelines. And the clock is winding down.

In fact, both the White House and the GOP Congress are said to have resigned themselves to doing nothing on immigration reform before the November election.

Instead, they intend to play to their strengths -- or what they consider their strengths -- national security and the war on terror.

Anti-illegal immigration activists object to that, claiming that you can't preserve national security without border security and that the two policy areas are intrinsically linked.

I cringe when I hear that. It suggests that, five years after the September 11 attacks, we still have trouble with basic concepts, like distinguishing between terrorists and immigrants.

Allow me to assist. One group takes innocent lives and wants to come here to do us harm. The other risks their lives to get here to do the cooking, laundry and gardening. The first step to being more secure is knowing the difference.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune and a nationally syndicated columnist. Read his column at www.signonsandiego.comexternal link.


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Navarrette: Five years after the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration is still fighting the last war.

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